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David Coleman: My daughter hums when she eats or concentrates. Should I worry?

I HAVE a four-year-old girl who hums quite loudly when she eats and when she is concentrating on a task such as colouring or work books (the volume of humming increases as she gets tired!). She has done this from the age of about nine months.

My wife and myself never made a big deal of it and we have not corrected it and when her friends ask her why she does it, she simply says "I hum."

She has navigated playschool fine and really enjoyed it. But she's now starting real school and we are worried the humming may be seen as either a disruption in class or looked on as different by her peers.

Am I worrying for nothing or should we be correcting this?

She is a confident, happy-in-her-own-skin four-year-old and I don't want to ruin that.

David replies:

MY FIRST instinct is to say that, of course, you don't need to correct her. Her humming appears no different to me than another child's frown of concentration, or sticking the tip of their tongue out as they focus on a task.

However, in a very practical sense, she may draw some negative attention to herself and she may be corrected for it by her teacher if she seems to be distracting other children in the class. If this is the case then you will have no choice but to help her change the behaviour.

I think that if you speak to her teacher in advance about the humming, and offer to keep in touch about it, then you can wait to see what the teacher's view is after a few days or weeks.

It may be that she has to change her habit of humming and that will require you to be supportive of the teacher and yet understanding of your daughter. While it is manageable to change her habit of humming, she may not find it easy!

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Ideally you might want to train her into humming internally, so that she lets the tune or the drone have free reign inside her head but just doesn't project it out.

The first step to this is to bring her awareness to every time she hums out loud, so that she realises when she is humming. I would imagine that normally her humming is quite an unconscious act and she may not notice it.

Once she learns to notice it, she can then choose to be loud, quiet or silent in her humming. I think you are better to reinforce her for being quieter than to use a punishment system for being loud.

You can set it up as a relaxed game at home, where you can get her to imagine having a volume control button on her mouth. You can challenge her to turn down the volume so that you can't hear her, but see if she can keep it loud enough that she can hear herself.

You can transfer the same type of system to school also, such that her teacher can adopt a signal that your daughter will recognise to turn down her humming.

However, unless her teacher says the humming is a problem in the first place, then you need do nothing about it.

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